Interviewer: Bruce Mee.
Back around 1981, my friend and neighbour came back from a few years in Hong Kong, where his father had been working. With him he brought an album that was to change my outlook on Rock – Accept’s ‘Breaker’. Up until that point I had mainly been into British bands like Rainbow, Judas Priest, UFO, Magnum and Saracen. Scorpions’ ‘Animal Magnetism’ introduced me to the joys of Teutonic Rock, but with ‘Breaker’... here was an album with frantic riffing, gloriously melodic but tied into the snarling delivery of vocal powerhouse Udo Dirkschneider. This was the album that cemented my love for Accept, and made me focus my attention on other German bands of the period. It is still also Udo’s personal favourite Accept album, as he explained to me recently. “I think with ‘Breaker’, in my opinion; that was the album we found the whole sound of Accept. There are a lot of good songs on there. I found out later that it inspired a lot of musicians in Germany and around the world, so for me, this album was now the sound of Accept. It’s still my favourite Accept album.”
Having just celebrated his 70th birthday and with over 50 years in the music business, we figured it was a good time to have a more detailed look at Udo’s career with Accept and U.D.O. Wikipedia states the band were formed in 1976, but that’s not true, as Udo is quick to point out.
“Well, first of all, the band was already formed in 1968; that was with a completely different line-up. Michael Wagener [the famed producer] was the guitarist. The Accept that everyone knows came together in 1975/76. Wolf came, Peter came... Stefan Kaufmann and Jörg Fischer. So it was already Accept; it was just a long time before those guys came into the band.”
Originally they were called Band X, but unbelievably it was the release of a Chicken Shack album that gave the band their name.
As Udo recalls, “Before we changed the name, the band was called Band X. Then the Chicken Shack album came out and it was called ‘Accept’, and we thought, ‘Wow, that’s the perfect name!’ Everybody understands the name, as in the sense to ‘accept the whole thing’, so in a way, that was very easy.”
What wasn’t very easy was determining the classic sound of Accept. The self-titled debut album from 1979 was a long way from the sound the band later became famous for.
As Udo explains, “Yeah, that was before Jörg and Peter came, we did that with different people. We did some of it with a guy in a studio that mainly did ‘Schlager’ music. We signed a contract with the Metronome label. It was great fun to do the debut album, and everything was new of course. Then when the album came out, it was a big surprise. People would say, ‘Here’s a new band from England.’ And we were like, ‘What?! We’re from Germany! That also happened to Scorpions. The sound, at the time, was really new for Germany. At the time we had a lot of bands known as ‘Kraut Rock’... very psychedelic. We had a lot of offers to play in Belgium and Holland. Our first tour was in Holland, but in Germany we were still playing in front of thirty people, rather than the thousand or so in Belgium and Holland. So it was a little strange.”
The following album ‘I’m A Rebel’ was a more rocking affair, with the title track being written by ‘George Alexander’, which is actually a pseudonym for Alex Young, the brother of AC/DC guitarists Angus and Malcolm. The demo was presented to the up-and-coming Accept as a sure-fire radio hit and became the subject of their first ever video.
“Our publishing company came up with Alex’s demo tape and asked if we wanted to do it,” remembers Udo. “They told us AC/DC wanted to do the song, but their demo version was much slower. We did it a little more up-tempo. I don’t know why AC/DC didn’t finally do the song.” The album also saw bassist Peter Baltes singing lead on two of the songs, ‘No Time To Lose’ and ‘The King’. While this may have diluted the band’s identity, Udo himself was perfectly okay with the situation. “Let’s just say these songs were better for Peter’s voice. He’d already sung ‘Sounds of War’ as a duet together with me on the debut album. For me, I don’t think I was ready to sing something like that. So that’s how that came about and I had no problems with that.”
Although I personally love the title track, Udo and the guys blamed outside influences for trying to manipulate the band as the reason to why it sounded incohesive and disjointed. This was the reason the band holed up for an extended period and wrote the next album themselves; a method that certainly proved successful when the brilliant ‘Breaker’ album was delivered! It was during that European tour supporting Judas Priest that I first saw Accept live, an experience I can still remember to this day, not least due to Dirkschneider’s long flowing blond locks and silver jacket!
“Well yeah, but before we did the Judas Priest tour in ‘81 we had done quite a successful European tour on our own,” counter-points Udo. “But with Priest, that allowed us to play in bigger halls, in front of more people and was definitely really, really helpful. And they showed us a lot; how a band should move and behave on stage etc. It was a great tour for us, and a couple of years ago I was opening up for Judas Priest, and we were chatting about the ‘81 tour!”
The band’s fourth album ‘Restless And Wild’ continued their hot streak, and of course contained that song as the opening number.
“‘Fast As A Shark’?” laughs Udo. “I mean, Stefan Kaufmann came up with this idea for the song, and we were like, ‘Hmmmm... we don’t know. I’m not sure.’ In the end, we said, ‘Okay, let’s do it,’ but at that time we didn’t know that in a way, we were creating the first Speed Metal song! It was like, ‘Yeah, we like the song, it’s really fast. Okay, here we go.’ But in the end, everybody said that was the first Speed Metal song. ‘Restless & Wild’ really brought Accept a step forward. Also, with ‘Princess Of The Dawn’ and the title track... there were some really strong songs.” Dario Argento obviously agreed, as anyone who has seen the classic motorbike sequence in his 1985 movie ‘Demons’ will attest to!
Follow up ‘Balls To The Wall”, despite the infamous talk surrounding the supposed gay themes of the cover and some of the lyrics, was the first, and only, Accept album to go Gold in the USA. How did Dirkschneider view this American success?
“They were already asking us to do an American tour for ‘Restless & Wild’, but the management said it was too early, and blah, blah, blah... all the business stuff. And then ‘Balls To The Wall’ yeah; what can I say about this album? It was another chapter for Accept. We’d done a huge European tour already and then... they call it an ‘overnight sensation’ in America... it was overnight on 120 tour dates! And we were like, ‘Hello?’ But that was definitely the time to go to America, and we played with KISS which was also a very important tour for us. KISS were very friendly, telling us this is America, not Europe, you have to act a little differently now, talking a little bit more on stage, and so on. I was living then for three years in America... we were touring with everybody: Ozzy Osborne, Iron Maiden, and we ended up being headliners in America, and that was something else! That was the beginning of the big success in America.”
Behind the scenes another influence was starting to make itself seen... and heard! Gaby Hauke, Wolf Hoffman’s then girlfriend, now wife, had become Accept’s manager, and as well as helping out lyrically on the previous album under the pen-name of Deaffy, she began moulding the band into her own vision.
As Udo diplomatically explains, “Gaby... how can I explain this? She had something in her mind how the band had to be, and it really started in 1982 with the ‘Restless & Wild’ album. She said to me, ‘Could you imagine wearing some military clothes... camouflage?’ and I was like, “Hmmmmm...maybe.’ So I was okay with that, and then she came up to me and said, ‘Could you also cut your hair?’ And I was like, ‘What? My hair? Are you crazy?’ But yeah, she had the vision, you know, and in the end she was right; that became the style of Accept. I really have to say thank you very much, she had the right vision.” I wondered if having the band’s guitarist’s wife as manager caused any disruption within their ranks. As Dirkschneider ruefully recalls, “Hmm... at this time, no, that came later!” [Laughs]
After following albums, the superb ‘Metal Heart’ and the rather under-whelming ‘Russian Roulette’, it was decided Udo should go his own way as the band concentrated on trying to make it big in America. To that effect, they gave him a completely written album in the shape of the iconic ‘Animal House’, and gently ushered him on his way.
“It was meant to be the album after ‘Russian Roulette’,” he explains, “and I tried to make a choice [Laughs]. I had the feeling already when we were doing ‘Metal Heart’ that they wanted to be a little bit more commercial. So it was a big decision with ‘Russian Roulette’ to go a bit harder, and in my opinion, back to the Accept stuff. And then after ‘Russian Roulette’, what can I say? We had huge success in Europe and we did a huge tour. Then after that it was a little strange... they were asking me could I imagine doing solo stuff, and I said, ‘Solo stuff? What do you mean?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, do your own band. We wanna go more commercial for the American market.’ And I was like, ‘Come on! With ‘Balls To The Wall’ we sold a million albums!’ They wanted to be more commercial; they wanted to be Bon Jovi or something. So then I heard some demo stuff from the new material they wanted to do, and for me it was definitely not my kind of music anymore. And then they said, ‘You can have all the songs off ‘Animal House’ and it will be much easier for you to start.’ So for me, it was not so painful, it was really easy in a way. So I did ‘Animal House’ and then I was going directly on tour in Europe. I mean, I was on tour with Guns N’ Roses and Lita Ford in America, so everything was easy, in a way. And here we are now, I’m still with U.D.O.”Accept forged ahead with American vocalist David Reece for the under-appreciated ‘Eat The Heat’ album, which coincidentally was the very first album review I did for the then fledgling fanzine Boulevard, which upset the AOR purists somewhat. I still maintain it is a wonderful album, with some songs on Side 2 actually reminding me of classic Danish AORsters Skagarack." But I guess that direction didn’t fare so well for Accept as this was their only release with Reece, and three years later they re-united with Udo for a further three albums, the terribly disappointing ‘Objection Overruled’, ‘Death Row’ and ‘Predator, after which Dirkschneider went back to successfully fronting U.D.O. The fans still loved hearing those old Accept classics from Udo, although after a long stint doing an Accept songs only tour, he announced that he would no longer be doing any Accept material live in the future, a statement that left fans, including myself, aghast.
“You know, the thing was it was just planned to do a little break from U.D.O. as a lot of people had asked if it would be possible to do some shows only playing Accept songs,” explains Dirkschneider. “And after saying yes, maybe ten or fifteen dates in Europe and that’s it, you know. [Laughs] But in the end we did nearly 300... unbelievable, just unbelievable! And then Covid hit and U.D.O. couldn’t play live, so after around three years I think I was a little tired of only playing Accept songs. But maybe I was a little too quick to say I’ll never play Accept songs again, so definitely I will stillplay some classics, I know that people want to hear them. It would be the same if Deep Purple didn’t play ‘Smoke On The Water’. So definitely, when we go on tour as U.D.O., I’ll put some Accept stuff in there.”
A few years back, U.D.O. did the ‘We Are One’ album with full orchestral backing, an idea Dirkschneider had always had in the back of his mind.
“For a long, long time, with Stefan Kaufmann and me, when we were in U.D.O., we were always talking about doing something with an orchestra. We tried many things but they were too soft; it wasn’t the sound we were looking for. Then when I did the ‘Steelhammer’ album, the producer was a drummer in this orchestra. They had a show around Christmas when we were mixing it, and he told us he had to do a show in a church, so I said I’d go with him as it was a little bit boring and I wanted to see what they were doing. So I went, but I didn’t expect that they would be playing songs from the likes of Michael Jackson and ABBA and stuff like that. I was sitting there and I was like, ‘That’s it!’ That, to me, was what I was looking for.”
“So we were discussing it,” he continues, “and it was like, ‘I don’t know if that is possible. We have to ask the minister and all that stuff’... it got really high in Germany with the government. But in the end they said yes, and off we went, and I’m happy that we did it. In a way, you can say a dream came true. And then the pandemic came, and what we originally planned to do when this album came out was shows with the backing of the orchestra at festivals... but yeah, two years of pandemic!”
A year later and along with former Accept members Peter Baltes and Stefan Kaufmann, ‘Dirkschneider & The Old Gang’ was released. An idea that might go further? Not really, as Udo explains.
“Let’s say, with Stefan Kaufmann we were always together. He left Accept in 1990, and started producing U.D.O. and later on even became the guitar player. So we have had been working together for over thirty years with U.D.O. With Peter, he left Accept, and then Stefan was calling me and saying he needed some demo stuff for the orchestra songs, can I come to the studio? So I said, ‘Okay, no problem’, and when I got to the studio, Peter Baltes was there! And we just starting talking, talking, talking... you know what it’s like when you haven’t seen someone in over ten years. He said, ‘I see you’re doing the orchestra thing. I have some ideas if you want, I can be part of it.’ I said, ‘Yeah, no problem,’ and that was how I got back also with Peter. And The Old Gang... that was like a charity thing. There were three songs left that were originally planned for the ‘We Are 1’ album.
It was Stefan Kaufmann who came up with the idea... ‘Hey, come on. Pandemic... no shows. No money, of course [Laughs]. Let’s do a charity thing and all the money goes to the U.D.O. band!’ So that was like, ‘Okay, why not?’ So then we did those three songs, but it was just a charity thing. It was really nice to Rock together and it was a lot of fun without any pressure, but there are no plans to do anything further.”
The last U.D.O album ‘Game Over’, to me, was a move away from the Metal sound of previous albums and a move back to the more melodic sounds of the early Accept albums. Totally coincidental, as Dirkschneider explains:
“You know, when I start working on an album, I never think I want it to sound like this or that. We just think we are doing new songs and we see what’s coming out, you know? Yeah, a lot of people say this album is back to the old Accept stuff. Good to hear, but what can I say? We put sixteen songs on this album... during the pandemic we had time enough and songs enough. So yeah, I’m really happy with it and now, finally, we can start touring.”
Of course, ‘Game Over’ was the last album to be released on AFM, with the band now moving to new, fledgling label Atomic Fire. “I think the time was right to make a change – fresh blood,” Dirkschneider offers. “I would say nothing against AFM, they did a great job. How can I put it... it’s like an old marriage, you know what I mean? We plan on doing a new album, and this, and this and this. There was nothing really moving forward, it was all repetitive. We were talking about a new album deal with AFM but then Atomic Fire approached us, and I know these guys, especially Wosi (Markus Wosgien)... these are the old Nuclear Blast people. And they came up and asked, ‘Would you consider changing your record company? We’d really like to work with you.’ Of course, there was business stuff, blah, blah, blah... and in the end I said, ‘Let’s make a new move with fresh blood’, and so far what I can say is that what they’ve done with the covers album is unbelievable. So I think that was the right move at the right time.”
Yeah, the covers album... with that really amusing video for Udo’s version of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’. “[Laughs] Let’s just say... first of all, it was not planned to do a covers album. I was working in a studio on some stuff and Patrick came up and said, ‘Hey, let’s do a cover version of ‘Faith Healer’ from the Alex Harvey band.’ It was always our favourite song from the very early days. So I thought sure, let’s try it just for fun. The sound was good, really good! Then we started talking about maybe doing more cover songs. And I said, ‘Come on guys, it not so easy to do.’ So they said, ‘Okay, maybe make a list of songs you really like.’ And I said, ‘Okay’... so I made a list of songs, songs that didn’t really inspire me but songs I really love to hear and listened to, in the early years, like the 60s, 70s and 80s. Then we started working on those songs and we asked Atomic Fire, ‘What do you think, maybe we could put out a covers album? Would that be okay for you?’ So they said they would listen to some stuff, and they really liked it but they said that the most important thing on all these cover songs was to put my own stamp on them. And I think in the end, it worked. Maybe there are some surprises [Laughs]... like ‘Nutbush City Limits’.”
“As for the video,” he adds laughing, “that was the idea of the producer of the video company. You know, typically in the beginning it was just ‘let’s put a band on stage and do a normal performance’ and I was like, ‘come on, everybody does that, it’s boring. It’s nothing you wanna see until the end.’ And then the producer came up and said, ‘Hey, I have an idea. Can you imagine you play all the roles on your own?’ I wasn’t sure what he meant, but then he was explaining the whole thing to me and let’s just say... in the beginning I was not really sure about it! And then I said, ‘Okay, come on, let’s do it and we will see how it turns out.’ In the end, I think don’t take everything too seriously. And the people, they were like, ‘Wow, what a great video!’ So sometimes, if you do some different things to what you would normally do, then there you go.”
The album also sees Dirkschneider singing his first ever song in his native German, a cover of Wolfheim’s ‘Kein Zurück’, which when translated means ‘No Turning Back’, a fitting declaration for Udo himself.
“I chose this song because of the lyrics, which in a way reflect my whole career. There is no way back, it’s always one way forward. Go forward... don’t look back, just go your way. But this song, to sing in my mother language for the first time, it was the most difficult thing in the studio, recording-wise. The German language is a really hard language, and the words are really harsh. So that was a little difficult but at the end it came out good, and I’m happy that I did it.”
For me personally, it was Rainbow that got me into Rock with ‘Rising’ way back in 1978, when I first heard it. So I was particularly happy to see a version of ‘Man On The Silver Mountain’ here from the Rainbow debut. It turns out that Dirkschneider is also a massive fan of Blackmore and his cohorts.
“I was a huge, huge Rainbow fan,” he reveals. “I don’t know how many concerts I saw with Rainbow and Dio, and with Ronnie... it’s a shame he’s not with us anymore. I was on tour twice with Dio also, and we talked so many times; we had the same feeling for the whole business and music. We talked about a lot of things, and always when we met at festivals, or when he was playing in Hamburg or Berlin and I went to the concerts... I don’t want to say we were really close friends, but we knew each other very well. And for me, that was... wow, Dio was one of the best voices in Heavy Metal, and it was very interesting to have a good relationship with him, and ‘Man On The Silver Mountain’, that was a must to do.”
And whilst many may have questioned the idea of doing a full covers album, ‘My Way’ entered the official German album charts at #4, Dirkschneider’s highest ever position in Germany throughout his whole professional career; the perfect 70th birthday present for one of the true icons in Metal. But what of his plans for U.D.O. and a new album?
“Let’s say we already have a lot of ideas. First of all we start touring, and in two weeks we start rehearsing for the tour which starts in South America in June. Then we do some festival stuff over the summer, and then the European tour is coming up. Now in October we have a big hole, as that was originally intended to do Russia and Ukraine, but that’s definitely cancelled, so at the moment we’re trying to get some more European dates. We are missing the UK, Italy... and we want to do some more shows in France but it’s not so easy; after two years of pandemic everybody wants to go on tour, so it’s not so easy to organise. But anyway, we’ll try to do some more shows and in the meantime, over the summer, we want to start slowly working on the new U.D.O. album. I don’t know what Atomic Fire is planning, regarding the release date. Maybe in the springtime next year, I don’t know but we will see.”